Translation of the Prologue to La Lingua Franca. Consideracions crítiques by Carles Castellanos i Llorens. Girona: Documenta Universitaria, 2006.

© Copyright 2006 del pròleg i les notes: Carles Castellanos
© Copyright 2010 English translation: Alan D. Corré

Published by kind permission of Professor Carles Castellanos i Llorens.

Translator's note

I wish to express my gratitude to a knowledgeable correspondent in Catalonia, who prefers to remain anonymous, who pointed out to me that the Catalan language as a possible source for Lingua Franca has been neglected on this website. When Lingua Franca first began, Catalan and Occitan must have been close in character, as they indeed are geographically. As my correspondent pointed out, Catalonian influence around the Mediterranean was widespread at that time, particularly in regard to its famed "Consulate of the Sea".

I decided to try to remedy this as follows. In 1984 Christian Foltys published an article "Die Belege der Lingua Franca" in Neue Romania 1, pp. 1-37. This article was translated into Catalan by Sybille Hunzinger, along with a new prologue by Professor Carles Castellanos i Lorens of the Centre d'Estudis Internacionals i Interculturals of the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona. The result was a 63-page book entitled La Lingua Franca. Consideracions crítiques. (Girona: 2006). I translated the prologue from Catalan to English, and Professor Castellanos reviewed my translation and made several valuable suggestions and corrections. My translation follows. The website offers this book for sale, incorrectly stating that it is in Spanish. I correct this in a brief review ad loc.

The professor delivered a paper in Catalan at a colloquium in 2007 which gives further details and two wordlists.



The work of Foltys which we are introducing [Christian Foltys, "Die Belege der Lingua Franca" in Neue Romania vol. 1, pp. 1-37, 1984] is an important collection of sources of the Lingua Franca, which seemed to us extremely useful, considering the difficulty of gathering documentation about the interesting subject of the historical and sociolinguistic study of the Mediterranean. It is for this reason that we have undertaken the laborious task of translating it [from German to Catalan], and have brought a careful and meticulous revision and annotation of it to a successful conclusion.

First of all, we must be grateful to the author-compiler that he did not simply gather the various documents. Rather, they are accompanied by appropriate commentaries which give valuable guidance supplementing the information they contain. The majority of the observations are quite well-founded, but some, like all personal opinions, are questionable, and do not seem entirely justified to us.

However, I did not see fit to set up a systematic critique of Foltys's assertions, or of the various authors he assembled, because, for the sake of clarity of exposition, I preferred to set out some hypotheses of my own, and thus be able to place those of the various evidences offered in this collection apart from these hypotheses.

We wish to acknowledge the willing cooperation we have always received from the translator of the German text, Professor Sybille Hunzinger, and from our colleague in North African linguistic and sociolinguistic studies, Doctor Mohand Tilmatine, whose expertise in the languages and the social milieu of North Africa has enabled us to resolve some of the most difficult problems of interpretation. We must also record and acknowledge the help which Stavroula Sokoli has given us in the translation and interpretation of fragments in Greek.

I owe also to Mirjam Hillenius definitive help in clarifying an important Dutch sociolinguistic source of the seventeenth century (Olfert Dapper, referred to in our notes, Editor's Notes numbers 52 and 53) a source which is mixed up in the German version cited by Foltys in documentary evidence number 27.

We note furthermore that with the objective of providing Catalonian studies with an instrument useful for research, we have have inserted into the text footnotes marked NdE 1 in order to draw attention to fragments or words which may seem doubtful (differentiating them thereby from the annotations of the author himself) and also often, by way of the reproduction of the German form next to the Catalan translation, giving thus precise information to the reader of the content of the original text.

Apart from these observations, in a good number of our notes we offer the translations of various fragments which in the original text occur in languages other than German (Italian, French, English, or Spanish) with the object of enabling a rather larger public to understand them.

Finally, it is necessary to note that the study of the Lingua Franca cannot be undertaken without a deep knowledge of the sociolinguistic situation surrounding each stage of its evolution. Only by taking account of the basis of the various situations is it possible to propose valid hypotheses for research. In our view the extant studies, and the historical accounts of the sociolinguistic situation in the Mediterranean, allow us to set up at least the following bases:

I. On the Name of the "Lingua Franca" and its Spread

If we take account of existing documentation and historical data, the name of "lingua franca" or "the language of the Franks" appears in the contact between the Muslim population and the western Christian population between the eighth and tenth centuries, that is to say, when the Christian population in general, including that of Catalonia, were known as Franks. It is sufficient to recall here the text translated from Arabic by Lévi-Provençal in his work L'Espagne musulmane au Xe siècle. Institutions et vie sociale, Paris, 1932, where is cited explicitly "a delegation of Christians from Ifranj had presented itself to see the Caliph…" It concerns a delegation sent from Catalonia to visit the Caliph of Cordova in 950 CE which was described as coming from the country of the Franks.2 The "Lingua Franca", then is originally the "language of the Franks", that is to say, initially the "language of the Christians living close to the Muslims, and belonging initially to the Carolingian Empire." Later, with the extension of this designation towards the East, it became "the language of the Western Christians, in contrast to the Muslims, and also the Eastern Christians."3

The analysis of the geopolitical history of the Mediterranean shows us the expansion of the influence of Western Europe towards the south and east of this basin, beginning with the eleventh century and with especial impetus at the end of the thirteenth century on account of the trade and the political and military reinforcement brought about by the Crusades. The designation "Lingua Franca" applied initially to the area of the Carolingian Empire, extended at the end of this period to the whole of Western Europe (that is to say, Roman Christian Europe, clearly distinguished from the Byzantine.) This is how the "Lingua Franca" became in this era for the eastern and southern Mediterranean a synonym for "the language of the Western Europeans."

It is desirable, therefore, to note first of all that the initial meaning of the term "Lingua Franca" is in global fashion "any variety whatsoever of the Romance language of the Frankish Empire". However, with the passage of time, the terms for the various Romance languages became differentiated on the one hand, and on the other hand, there was the chief object of our study, namely the hybrid language with a Romance base, which came about in trade contacts, and acquired more specifically the term "Frank language" or "Lingua Franca" among the non-Romance populations that used it.

We are dealing, therefore, with a term that is essentially external, from the Muslim or Byzantine Greek world which initially in a general way points to "any Romance language whatsoever." The distinct term "Lingua Franca" as such (that is to say, referring to the pidginized variety, distinct from the several Romance languages) came into being only after centuries of contact between the west, the south, and the east of the Mediterranean basin in the process of formation of this new interlinguistic form of communication; and more clearly this specific term alone was totally differentiated when the national languages derived from Latin became normalized in their form and appear as distinct in the appellations used for them. However, an imprecise expression like "the language of the Western Christians" still appears in various descriptions, referring especially to the more eastern Romance variants of Italian.

At a later period, the dilution of the geopolitical term "franc" or "franca" [Frank] emptied the term "Lingua Franca" of any geographic content, and even up to the twentieth century came to be used internationally to denote any trade language of international reach. On the other hand, the military occupation by the European countries of various zones of North Africa, beginning with the nineteenth century, developed new linguistic phenomena, in which the forms of Romance languages used by the North African population were much closer to one or the other of the colonial languages. We shall deal with this question in more detail in the sections which follow.

We can conclude therefore, that while this linguistic phenomenon began in an earlier period, the clearly differentiated and specific term "Lingua Franca", applied exclusively to the Mediterranean commercial pidgin, was in existence principally between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

II. How the Lingua Franca was formed

We have already noted in the previous section the semantic evolution of the term "Frank language" or "lingua franca". If we concentrate then on the "neo-Latin pidgin" we must take into consideration the following:

We are concerned with a pidginization of the neo-Latin languages of the Mediterranean littoral which had some commercial uses among different populations of various languages. The "Lingua Franca" as such was used in the first instance above all by the North African population in order to be in touch with the "Franks" (that is to say, with the population of the western European littoral). But this applies too to other populations like the western European population as a whole, in touch with North Africans and with other eastern populations such as Greeks, Turks, etc. The evidences of Foltys include examples of these uses which extended to the end of the nineteenth century.

All the data appear to show that there never existed a population which had the "Lingua Franca" as its native language, since in all these cases it was solely a means of communication with a foreign population. The examples which seem to display its regular use in a particular territory can principally be explained by the confusion which we have noted in the use of the term "Lingua Franca" when it was applied to one of the neo-Latin languages or one of their dialectal variants.4

On the other hand, on account of its very character as a commercial pidgin, we cannot say that there was a single "Lingua Franca" either from a geographical or from an historical point of view. An initial hypothesis allows us to establish the following classification:

Phase One: From the tenth century to the fifteenth century there took place the initial formation and first development of a form of pidgin which was to become known as "Lingua Franca". We characterize this initial form here by the term the Original Lingua Franca (OLF). This Original Lingua Franca grew out of the contact among the western Mediterranean coasts in the expansion process of "Frankish" trade, a contact which occurred for the most part among populations speaking neo-Latin in the north, and speaking Berber or Arabic in the south. In this shape it would expand specifically eastwards, where it came into contact with other eastern languages, especially Greek and Turkish, and also was changed by incorporating traits of Italian dialects, western in particular, such as Venetian.
Phase Two: From the sixteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century, in an era of confrontation between the colonial states of western Europe and the Ottoman hegemony in the Mediterranean, the term "Lingua Franca" established itself. The evolution of its form into different varieties took place to bring about a state of the language which we can call the Evolved Lingua Franca (ELF). On the basis of the OLF the Lingua Franca of this era displays various deeper influences of the different colonial states: so we have a more italianized language towards the eastern Mediterranean, and more hispanicized in its central and western zones. We do not take note of the French and Portuguese influences, which we adjudge minimal during this period. We have evidences of the ELF at least in Algiers, Tunis, Constantinople, Tblisi (Tiflis), Jerusalem and Egypt, all noted by Foltys.
Phase Three: From the first third of the nineteenth century (that is to say, from the European colonial occupation of North Africa, usually dated by the military occupation of Algiers in 1830) we can say that the Lingua Franca as such disappears, and the autochthonous North African population take on approximate ways of expressing themselves in the various colonial languages. Granted that remains of the Lingua Franca continue to exist in these speech forms, it would seem inappropriate to use this term to refer to them. It is on account of this change in linguistic code that the middle of the nineteenth century marks the appearance of the terms "sabir" and "petit mauresque" in order to refer to certain autochthonous forms of speaking an approximation of French in Algeria, for example. This process is explicated by Foltys in the commentaries on document no. 50 et seq.

On the other hand, we must also consider as a phenomenon different from the Lingua Franca what happened with the appearance of Romance-based forms of speech which appeared beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century like the patatuet (spelled patatouète in French). In these instances, it is a question of processes linked with new migrations connected with the European colonization and occupation of the North African lands. Concretely, we know that at Oran and Algiers the linguistic influence of Catalan, particularly the dialects of Valencia and Minorca, became strong, as Joan Coromines, among other researchers, has indicated, an aspect not picked up in the comments of Foltys, as can be ascertained.

Finally, it is necessary to note that similarly the results of linguistic contacts prior to the Arab-Muslim expansion to North Africa and southern Europe, that is to say, prior to the eighth century, do not have to be studied as Lingua Franca. If there ever existed a Romance variant of a trade pidgin prior to the Frankish Empire, it is evident that it could not assume the term we are studying, and for that reason is not chronologically acceptable.

III. The Linguistic Bases of the Lingua Franca

We are concerned with a neo-Latin and pidginized variety of language, and as such, it is not fixed in its form,5 and is the subject of morphosyntactic, lexical, and phonetic reductions.6

This linguistic type is formed by a process of neutralization and equalization. The Latin substrate serves as the best background in this process. This means that among the possibilities of selecting between bo, bon, or bono, the Lingua Franca, accepted as the interlinguistic means of communication, selects the full termination in final "-o" bono, which is a form existing in medieval Latin. Apparently, if it can select among buona, buena, or bona, the Lingua Franca chooses the form without diphthong bona which is a form also existing in medieval Latin.

It seems reasonable to think that the rudiments of Latin which were in use in the Romance lands held sway, so that the speakers of the various daughter languages might be understood in their contacts with one another.

As a means of communication between Europeans and North Africans, as I have noted in the previous section, there occurred in Lingua Franca, on the other hand, an adaptation to various features of the North African phonology. We can observe this both in its simplified vocalism, and in the raising of "e" to "i", this latter clearly seen in the infinitive of Romance verbs in "er" changed to "ir", as in "sabir, tasir, intendir". It is also to be seen in the neutralization of some consonantal phonemes such as /p/ which is generally reduced to /b/ in examples like "esbitar" (hospital), "esbaniul" (Spanish) etc.

Some of the observed phenomena appear not to be general in the Lingua Franca, such as final rhotacism in the previously mentioned word "esbitar", or the passage of intervocalic /d/ to /r/ in words like "bastonara" (> bastonada), this last feature being seen also in Sardinian. Let us notice in passing that we are dealing with a well-known characteristic phonetic feature also passed on to the Catalan dialect spoken in the city of Alghero in Sardinia.

In sum we can say then that the origin of the Lingua Franca was basically neo-Latin with features neutralized by contact with the speakers of the various Romance languages, and pidginized (that is to say having undergone an extreme process of reduction and simplification) by contact with a non-Romance population, North African in particular. In expounding these phenomena I have described, along with the various phases established in the previous section, we may note:

In Phase One (tenth to fifteenth centuries) the OLF (Original Lingua Franca) can basically be considered Occitan-Catalan and Genoese. That is to say, on the general neo-Latin basis which we indicated above, the Lingua Franca selection itself can be interpreted fundamentally as deriving from the lexical repositories of Genoese and Occitan-Catalan.7 As far as the shape of the consonants goes, we should note that the Lingua Franca conforms rather to Occitan phonetics.8 On the other hand, North African influence is noticeable in some aspects of the phonetic system.9 Linguistic analysis leads us then to consider the descriptions attributed to Hall and Hancock, justly criticized by Foltys at the very beginning of his collection, as more closely approaching the original reality of the Lingua Franca. There is no doubt that the evolution of the sociolinguistic situation in the western Mediterranean has been inadequately taken into account, which has made some authors, including Foltys himself, underestimate the influence of Provençal and Catalan in the origin of the Lingua Franca.

In Phase Two (from the sixteenth century to the first third of the nineteenth century) the ELF (Evolved Lingua Franca) is present, superimposed, as I have already indicated, upon the basis of the Original Lingua Franca described in the previous section. This occurs in a more markedly different way according to each colonial zone of influence. It is italianized, for example, in the Mediterranean Levant, in Tunis, and in the eastern zone of Algeria, but more hispanicized in the western part of the North African coast. This variation is noted in various documents, in particular in document 31 brought by Foltys in the present collection. It is this apparent evolution the Lingua Franca in its shape which gives us evidence of the existence of an OLF differentiated from an ELF.10

In Phase Three (the second half of the nineteenth century) there only remain remnants of the Lingua Franca in the extant hybrids which have a Romance basis, and also in the Amazigh (i.e. Berber) and Arabic modes of speech. As I have already noted, the varieties of the Romance language spoken by North Africans through coming into contact with the western Europeans at this period constantly approached more nearly the colonial languages, French in particular.11

We trust that these introductory sketches will serve the Catalan reader in an easier and more precise way to bring him to a better understanding of some of the explanatory elements, texts, and commentaries of the collection which we are introducing here.

Carles Castellanos i Llorens
Center for International and Intercultural Studies
(Section of Mediterranean Studies)
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona


  1. NdE. Nota de l'Editor (Editor's note).<--
  2. Reference cited by Bonnassié in Catalunya Mil Anys enrere Edicions 62, 1979. This term corresponds to the designation "afranjiyya" which refers to the Romance languages spoken on the Mediterranean coast under Frankish sway, already known from the ninth century. (Història de la llengua catalana, 1, Nadal-Prats, 1982:150) <--
  3. See sections b) and c) of document no. 1 in the collection of Foltys.<--
  4. We can find this acceptance of the wider meaning of Lingua Franca in documents 15, 38, etc. Document 49 displays concretely and in detail the presence in society of the Italian language at Tunis in the nineteenth century. The awareness of a particular usage in society where Lingua Franca, properly speaking, was employed, as is described in comment 35,a where we find: "The Turks have to know [Lingua Franca] in order to relate to the Moors, or to govern them, as is the case with the Kuloglis and Jews so that they can communicate with their wives" is in reality quite restricted. <--
  5. The process of pidginization which arises in contacts among the oral linguistic codes possesses a quite high degree of variation for different reasons. In the first place, because of the selection which occurs in all pidginization, it takes on a different reach in accordance with the linguistic group which has adopted the new hybrid code in some of its communicative acts. In the second place, it occurs on account of the lack of graphic fixation which makes the language arising from the contact very sensitive to geographic variations, even considering them as those of the same language.<--
  6. As examples of morphosyntactic reductions we may note the virtually exclusive use of a single verb form (the infinitive: "mi volir", "ti sabir") and of a single personal pronoun for each grammatical person, regardless of its grammatical function ("mi", "ti"). As an example of lexical reduction we may observe the use of the verb "star" in place of the duality "ésser/estar" [in Catalan] current in many Romance languages ("mi star bono" — estic bé [in Catalan] / "ti star turca?" — tu ets turc? [in Catalan]. In respect of phonetic reductions, we may note the neutralization e>i (in cases like "sabir", "volir") a phenomenon doubtless due to the influence of the character of these vowels in North Africa. <--
  7. We write "Occitan-Catalan" because at this period it is possible to consider the combination of Occitan and Catalan globally, especially with regard to the lexicon.<--
  8. This characteristic of closeness to Occitan is determined by various phenomena, such as the absence of affricates as they occur in Italian (in the verb "tasir", for example, which is closer to "tàiser" of Occitan than to "tacere" of Italian), and the lack of proparoxitonic words. Also, the diphthongization of stressed medial "o" is absent, as we have noted. The observation of these features is what has led some scholars to place the appearance of the Lingua Franca "between Genoa and Marseilles." Our view is to place the formation of the Lingua Franca "in the western Mediterranean", between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. The neo-Latin dialects dominant in this area at that time were Occitan-Catalan and Genoese. The influence of Sardinian dialects cannot be excluded, as some of the features noted indicate.<--
  9. We are referring to the changes /p/ > /b/, /e/ > /i/ previously noted. The reduction of /l/ > /r/ appears to situate this influence on the Original Lingua Franca in the Amazigh (Berber) zone of the western section of the southern Mediterranean littoral, more precisely west of Tlemcen, comprising together the present Rif zone and the adjacent Algerian zones, where rhotacism appears to have been more widespread. <--
  10. The lexical collections attributed to the Lingua Franca display instances of the imposition of terms from the OLF (for example "parlar") on the corresponding terms of the ELF (for example "ablar", a word which is an instance of the more hispanicized Lingua Franca developed in the more westerly region in this second phase.)<--
  11. Instead of "mi", we have, for example, "moi" [mwa] (see document 52): and the verb inflexion is no longer reduced only to the infinitive, but can be conjugated in a more complex form.<--
  1. Translator's note: In actuality, the reference here is not to Lingua Franca, but to the local dialect of Arabic. Here is the original German, with a translation:
    "Ein sehr harter und unangenehmer Dialect der arabischen Sprache ist im Allgemeinen in diesem Lande üblich. Die Türken müssen ihn kennen, um mit den Mauren zu verkehren, oder sie zu beherrschen, wie bei den Coulogliern und Juden, und um sich mit ihren Weibern verständigen zu können. Man spricht auch eine andere Mundart, die man das Klein-Maurische nennt, nämlich ein Gemisch von Spanisch, Italienisch, Provenzalisch, welche zum Verkehr mit den europäischen Nationen dient. Der Dey ist der einzige, der immer türkisch redet…"
    A very harsh and unpleasant dialect of the Arabic language is universally common in this country. The Turks have to know it in order to trade with the Moors, or to govern them, as with the Couloglis and Jews, and to communicate with their wives. People also speak another idiom, which is called Petit Mauresque, namely a mixture of Spanish, Italian, and Provençal, which serves for communication with the European nations. The Dey is the only one who always speaks Turkish.<--

The Couloughlis were the children of Ottoman (Turkish) officials and North African Arab women, especially Algerian, but also from Tunis and Tripoli. Venture de Paradis speaks often of them, giving precise definitions (unlike the Morabitoun, which I think were what we call the Almoravids) there are many reports on them in period literature up to about 1870 when this social component somehow faded away. Note kindly furnished by Prof. Roberto Rossetti.

Go back to Title Page

Alan D.Corré